I met Rachel late in 2011. We belonged to the same local community organization. I met her dog, Zoe, too. I told myself I’d seen her someplace before, but I could never pinpoint where in my many travels I’d run across her. Didn’t she look familiar? I never figured that one out. Whatever places we’d seen each other before were only a blur. If I had known her, perhaps it was in passing, and most likely we hadn’t spoken or known each other’s names. Rachel was about ten years younger than me.
I made it known within the community organization to which we both belonged that I had a mental history. Of course, this was a mistake on my part. I should have kept it hidden. I was naïve as to think this organization was a little different and wouldn’t discriminate, but I was wrong. They’re all the same.
Organizations are mostly run in Hellenistic fashion. There is the top powerful leadership, the “in crowd,” that is, the elite, and then there are the rest of us, the peons. The elite are advisors, trusted pals of the leader. They get special privileges. The peons get minimal, token recognition and don’t have a voice.
You guessed it. Those who were stuck with mental illness diagnosis got routinely shoved aside. They’d make it look like this wasn’t the reality, but it was. All along, I truly believed that this organization was the big exception. However, one day, I woke up to what was really going on.
I decided around the beginning of 2014 that this was rather serious. I decided to do something about the discrimination. I wrote to a higher-up in Boston about the discrimination in a private e-mail. My guess is that my e-mail actually did something, that there was a bit of a shakeup. Word got to the leadership and the elite. Next thing you knew, they retaliated. They came barging into my building and threatened me, telling me I was excluded from the organization unless I agreed to never write such an e-mail again. They even used police force to scare me. They accused me of having weapons and plotting murder. I was shocked and felt that what they did was a hate crime.
I was scared that someone would die as a result of the discrimination. That’s why I wrote the e-mail.
It broke my heart whenever I’d heard people gossip about Rachel. I heard the awfulest things. The top leadership said something, too, that I wasn’t supposed to hear, but I did and I was shocked.
The top leadership said that “people like Rachel” should not be given responsibility or have a voice in the organization. The top leadership said, “We need to be careful whom we assign these tasks to.” He said this in a lowered voice.
Why does this always happen to folks with a “diagnosis”? Shoved aside, given token recognition, neglected. We mental folk are forced live on the fringe of society.
I was thrilled, back in 2011, that Rachel reached out to me. She called herself my friend. She told me many things that she knew. She wanted me to meet folks in the so-called “recovery movement.” She often spoke of her “recovery,” but honestly, she seemed outwardly kinda sickly to me. Why speak of recovery? I hate that word because it means something different to each person. I feel that no one has a right to say that another is or is not “recovered.” Nor does any person, method, or organization have the ownership and monopoly on “recovery” as they so promise. So I don’t even use that word.
Rachel truly influenced me. I wanted to learn more, even though I flinched whenever she said, “recovery.” I looked into the principles behind the movement she had joined that she claimed helped her “recover.” I decided that I disagreed with the Recovery Movement’s principles. I decided I needed to find my own path.
Communication with Rachel was often difficult. I still had a landline and I knew she had one, too. Still, I couldn’t understand her over the phone. I’d pick up one out of every five words. In person, too, it was tough because her voice was slurred and slowed down. I wondered if she was doped up on something, because when my voice was slurred in the past, the drugs were the cause.
She voluntarily told me she took some cancer drug, and a bunch of psych meds too. I asked myself if perhaps this was contradictory. If this Recovery Movement was about getting away from conventional mental health care, what was she doing on these drugs? One was Haldol, and I think she took other downers, too, such as Klonopin. I wonder if she was even trying to get off of them. I’ll never know. As for the cancer pill, naturally, it was for cancer, and I don’t know anything about that except that her hair had all fallen out.
One day, I went to Rachel’s home. She had a very nice and pleasant place in Watertown she’d acquired with her Section 8 voucher. She even hired people to clean the place periodically. I have no clue where that money came from. The building was so different from mine. She had privacy and quiet. She told me she felt I needed to get out of my present living situation. That was good advice. But Section 8 vouchers involve getting on a ten year waiting list. I was ten years older than Rachel. In ten years, I’d be a senior citizen. I often felt it wasn’t worth it, that I would die well before then.
We are neglected. And we die young. So it was with Rachel. I heard through my e-mail that she died May 23, 2014. I have no clue what she physically died of. I know she died of neglect.
Yes, neglect. When no one cares, that’s neglect. When people routinely avoid you or make excuses or lie so they don’t have to see you, be with you, touch you, look at you, or speak to you, that’s neglect. Or if what they give you is out of pity and not real caring, that’s neglect. Or if it’s token, just to look nice to everyone else.
I heard Rachel say publicly once that she was cancer-free. Then I heard someone say the cancer had been all in her head all along. I told myself to take all this with a grain of salt. What doctor would give cancer drugs if there wasn’t clear scientific evidence of cancer?
When I went to her house that day, she had her wig off. She said to me, “I don’t go around publicly without hair. Baldness reeks of cancer, that’s why.” She meant that people would look at her bald head and know.
Rachel was highly influential on me, at first. But it was hard being friends with her after a while. We kept getting into arguments. Much of it was because of the slur in her voice. I’d mishear something and respond inappropriately, or sound insensitive. I told myself we should speak in person, maybe this would make communication easier.
It was back in March, the end of the month, that we ran into each other in person and she said something that insulted me terribly. She made a rude comment about my weight.
I should have gone to her, approached her and told her what I thought of her snide remark. Instead, I told myself that I would from then on avoid her to avoid controversy. I was really pissed. I handled it all wrong. My eating was seriously affected. I wish I had gone to her directly and asked her to apologize and not say those things again. I believe she must have caught wind of how I felt, but I’ll never know. We never spoke after that except I did compliment her a few times. What I said was heartfelt, too. She was an intelligent person with great insight.
When I left the organization, I wanted to contact Rachel, to tell her why I left. There are times though that you really have to keep stuff to yourself. I told myself that she was still a member of this organization, and we’d met there. I asked myself if maybe I shouldn’t burst her bubble. I asked myself over and over what to do. After the hate crime, I was scared to contact anyone who was a member. No one contacted me. It was hard, every day, running into folks from the organization. I knew it wasn’t true that every single member was hateful. I was sad about the lost friendships, including losing Rachel. I told myself maybe I should hold off and wait before making any contact with members.
I made a rather positive choice for myself, eventually. I made a huge change. I followed through, and have made drastic improvements in my life. Rachel, sadly, made a different choice. But I don’t know, right now, what that choice really was, if she even had a choice at all, or what it was that destroyed her.
I am writing this to increase awareness, to express myself, and in hopes that by speaking out, I can prevent more people from dying.
God bless you Rachel, and thanks for being my friend.